“Learning to drive initiative helps care leavers”

By Nina Jacobs

| 25 April 2019

Care leavers are learning to drive courtesy of a London charity after research showed the skill is of particular benefit to young people in the care system.

Live Unlimited, a new charity set up last year to offer additional support to looked-after children and care leavers in Barnet, launched its Driving Ahead programme in response to the findings of a pilot scheme.

The study - Driving outcomes: learning to drive, resilience and young people living in residential care - showed learning to drive not only boosted looked-after children's self-esteem and confidence, but also improved their relationships with adults and carers.

The trial initiative, carried out by Bristol University and supported by the AA Charitable Trust and Bristol City Council, followed six young people living in residential homes in Bristol.

It also showed the potential benefits learning to drive could have on care leavers seeking job opportunities.

The Barnet scheme, which is funded by Live Unlimited and delivered by AA Driving School instructors, will enable 12 young people to have 30 hours free driving lessons and take a driving test.

Initially, three care leavers will start driving lessons with the support of a personal mentor and a further nine candidates will be chosen later this year.

The charity said applicants would be rigorously selected with preference given to those young people in employment, education and training.

Those taking part had been asked to pay for the cost of the provisional driving licence and theory test themselves as a sign of their commitment to the programme, it added.

Assessments will be carried out at the beginning and end of the scheme on each applicant to monitor its impact on their personal development.

John Hooton, Live Unlimited's chair of the board of trustees, said looked-after children and care leavers were significantly under-represented among newly qualified drivers due to the high costs involved.

"We want to equip Barnet's looked-after children and care leavers with the life skills they need to reach their potential," he said.

Eighteen-year-old Emma Harris, who has been selected as one of the first three learner drivers to take part in the scheme, said she hoped to set up her own mobile hairdressing business if she passed her driving test.

"Being able to drive would change my life for the better, give me more freedom and power to develop my own business," she said.

The AA Charitable Trust said it had been working with looked-after children and care leavers for a number of years to deliver projects that provide them with the opportunity to learn to drive.

Edmund King, the trust's director, said "incredibly valuable lessons" had been learnt from the research carried out in conjunction with Bristol University.

"Learning to drive is a huge milestone for many young people and it opens so many doors for them. I am delighted the AA will continue to be involved in this project by delivering these lessons through our AA Driving School instructors," he said.